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The Real Thing
by [?]

Part I

When the porter’s wife, who used to answer the house-bell, announced “A gentleman and a lady, sir” I had, as I often had in those days–the wish being father to the thought–an immediate vision of sitters. Sitters my visitors in this case proved to be; but not in the sense I should have preferred. There was nothing at first however to indicate that they mightn’t have come for a portrait. The gentleman, a man of fifty, very high and very straight, with a moustache slightly grizzled and a dark grey walking-coat admirably fitted, both of which I noted professionally–I don’t mean as a barber or yet as a tailor–would have struck me as a celebrity if celebrities often were striking. It was a truth of which I had for some time been conscious that a figure with a good deal of frontage was, as one might say, almost never a public institution. A glance at the lady helped to remind me of this paradoxical law: she also looked too distinguished to be a “personality.” Moreover one would scarcely come across two variations together.

Neither of the pair immediately spoke–they only prolonged the preliminary gaze suggesting that each wished to give the other a chance. They were visibly shy; they stood there letting me take them in–which, as I afterwards perceived, was the most practical thing they could have done. In this way their embarrassment served their cause. I had seen people painfully reluctant to mention that they desired anything so gross as to be represented on canvas; but the scruples of my new friends appeared almost insurmountable. yet the gentlemen might have said “I should like a portrait of my wife,” and the lady might have said “I should like a portrait of my husband.” Perhaps they weren’t husband and wife–this naturally would make the matter more delicate. Perhaps they wished to be done together–in which case they ought to have brought a third person to break the news.

“We come from Mr. Rivet,” the lady finally said with a dim smile that had the effect of a moist sponge passed over a “sunk” piece of painting, as well as of a vague allusion to vanished beauty. She was a stall and straight, in her degree, as her companion, and with ten years less to carry. She looked as sad as a woman could look whose face was not charged with expression; that is her tinted oval mask showed waste as an exposed surface shows friction. The hand of time had played over her freely, but to an effect of elimination. She was slim and stiff, and so well-dressed, in dark blue cloth, with lappets and pockets and buttons, that it was clear she employed the same tailor as her husband. The couple had an indefinable air of prosperous thrift–they evidently got a good deal of luxury for their money. If I was to be one of their luxuries it would behove me to consider my terms.